Thursday, 11 October 2012

'Beautiful and noble in its kind.'

Forster 134 Mus. No. 1886.1.1340 Headdress, Marquesas

This is Forster No. 134. 'A headdress of mother of pearl & tortoise shell, with cock's feathers.'  Collected on the Marquesas in April 1774, Forster described these headdresses in 'A Voyage Round the World' - 'On their heads many of them wore a kind of diadem; this consisted of a flat bandage wrought of coco-nut core, on the outside of which several round pieces of mother of pearl, some of them five inches in diameter, were fixed, covered in the middle with a plate of tortoise-shell, perforated like fret-work. Several tufts of long, black and glossy cock's feathers formed the plumes to this head-dress, which was really beautiful and noble in its kind.' 

Image from the David Rumsey Map Collection

William Hodges, the official artist on the second voyage (1772-1775) drew a chief, Honu, from Tahuata, possibly from life on the 9th April 1774.  Forster describes the meeting - 'We went on shore after breakfast, and found our friendly natives assembled on the beach.  Among them was a chief, who was dressed in a cloak manufactured of the paper-mulberry bark, like the Tahetian cloth, and who wore the diadem, the gorget, the ear pendant, and bunches of hair. We learnt that this man was king of the whole island…'  

The diadem is known as a uhikana, the one collected by Forster being a rare double uhikana, here illustrated in the official account of the second voyage (Cook 1777, pl. XVII, fig. 4.)  

The motifs carved into the tortoiseshell overlay are seen on uhikana dating from the early contact period.  The ipu or 'container' motif is thought to represent a protective shell, such as of a turtle or crab, and to have a similar protective function for the wearer.